For some time now Microsoft has been pushing its own WMA digital audio format over MP3, and decrying the latter as having lower quality and bigger files. But today Microsoft tells us we can "discover the ultimate MP3 experience: learn about the new features that will make Windows XP the best OS for MP3 users."
You couldn't make it up, but there'd be no market for it anyway, given that Redmond evidently has roomfuls of people employed to make it up. But the addition of MP3 capabilities to XP seems to be one of those volte faces that look less important the more you examine them. Microsoft shipped some basic MP3 recording capabilities with earlier builds of the WinXP beta, but pulled this shortly before RC1. Since then it hasn't been entirely clear whether or not MP3 recording would ship with the final product, but the likelihood was that it wouldn't.
Today's announcement actually makes it clear that it won't. Microsoft has actually announced partnerships with Cyberlink, InterVideo and Ravisent Technologies which will mean there will be an 'official' add-on MP3 product. XP's Media Player has support for MP3 plug-ins, so that's what they'll be supplying.
The MP3 Creation Pack will ship along with the DVD Decoder Pack (which adds DVD playback support to Windows Media Player), and will be available when XP ships in October. It'll be possible to buy (you heard...) them together or separately. There isn't a price yet, but obviously there will be one. Nor does Microsoft say to what extent WinXP MP3 has been made safe for digital rights management, but one suspects...
These three companies are however clearly intended to be only the first 'official' MP3 add-in providers. Microsoft is currently soliciting emails from vendors interested MP3 Creation Packs for WinXP at MP3PackInfo@microsoft.com.
But it is not, as far as we're aware, necessary to work with Microsoft in order to get MP3 recording capabilities into WinXP. The Register has been shown add-ins that produce this capability, and although it wasn't entirely clear who developed them (or indeed, ahem, who owned them), they most certainly weren't developed in partnership with Microsoft.
Unless Microsoft intends to put some kind of padlock on the shipping version of XP, it seems highly likely that 'free'* MP3 add-ins for Media Player will start to become available shortly after the product ships. Microsoft will still hold the advantage of its own WMA being the default, free format, and its own Media Player being the default free player, so when you think about it today's announcement doesn't seem to have changed much, does it? ®
* We use the term "free" in conjunction with MP3 very carefully these days. Some people say there's lots of free MP3 recording software out there, lawyers say that by definition there's none - just a lot you haven't got around to paying for. We're not getting into this, OK?
MP3 gone from WinXP, and it's not coming back